In praise of idleness

Happy New Year!* So far so good for me, as I continue to spend some hours sitting under the awning reading books, glancing up from time to time to watch the tomatoes grow. One book I’ve been looking at is Bertrand Russell’s In Praise of Idleness, written a few years before the Second World War. He outlines an idea that used to be popular but is now well out of fashion: that technology would liberate us all from long working hours. Everyone would be expected to put in, say, four hours a day and the rest of the time would be spent in leisure. Bertrand’s ideas about leisure didn’t include computer games (they hadn’t been invented yet) but did encompass some of the higher-order pursuits of human existence: reading, music, art and conversation.

As we know, things didn’t work out the way he was hoping. That’s because his ideas were based on a flawed premise: that once our basic needs were met, we’d ease off on our frantic work habits. The fact is that our “needs” keep shifting to encompass more and more stuff. Stuff like the Wii, a computer game that gets you on your feet, burning calories, as you hit a virtual tennis ball. Why the virtual tennis ball? Why not an actual tennis ball? Meanwhile, Mum and Dad are working overtime to make sure the kids have a Wii (and everything else) and when they finally get a bit of leisure, they feel that reading, art or even conversation are way too hard and all they can cope with is another cop show on telly. All of which adds to the sum total of carbon emissions, but there’s no time to think too deeply about that, because there’s so much to do!

We’re still on the treadmill, but there is a continuing disquiet. This was clear in the movie Avatar, in which the idea of development at all costs received a big hiding. In fact, it had its ass whupped, to use the language of the bad guys in the movie.

Thanks to Judy Walker for filling in for me in the weeks before Christmas. If you feel inspired to help make the world a more sustainable place in 2010, BCCAN would love more members!

Tracy Sorensen is the publicity officer for Bathurst Community Climate Action Network. Visit www.bccan.org.au

* This is the text of the BCCAN column written for Bathurst’s Western Advocate to be published on Thursday, January 7 2010.

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